- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2006

TORONTO — It has became Royce Clayton’s daily ritual: Enter the clubhouse and check the Washington Nationals’ lineup card.

The veteran shortstop is likely to find himself almost anywhere in the Nationals’ batting order of late.

Manager Frank Robinson has penciled Clayton into five spots in the last 10 games: second, third, sixth, seventh and eighth.

But the constant shifting hasn’t affected Clayton’s hitting stroke. He entered last night’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays on a 9-for-16 hot streak to raise his batting average to a season-high. 270.

Even with that recent upswing, Clayton found himself batting eighth yesterday … at least until a few minutes before gametime. With teammates Daryle Ward and Mike Stanton late to arrive in Toronto after dealing with weather-related travel problems, Robinson did some last-minute reconfiguring of his lineup.

So Clayton made the unusual bump from eighth to third, as Robinson again moved his veteran around.

“It is what it is,” the manager said. “I’m not doing that intentionally to move him around. All I’m doing is trying to put a combination together in the lineup that I can get production out of.”

Clayton said he has no problem with the daily switches, but he prefers batting near the top of the lineup.

“I enjoy hitting second,” he said. “I can open my game, play more situational. You can get into the flow of the game. The past two years, I enjoyed the challenge of setting up the guys behind me to drive in runs. I just like situational hitting.”

Hill homecoming

Shawn Hill will have plenty of supporters for tonight’s game at Rogers Centre.

The Nationals’ rookie right-hander is from Mississauga, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, and he expects to have 50 to 60 friends and family members in the crowd.

Hill is most excited that his grandparents, who have never seen him pitch in the majors, will be in attendance.

“They’ve always hoped they’d be around for this, and they’ll both be here tomorrow,” he said.

The 25-year-old pitcher, a lifelong Blue Jays fan, is something of a local legend here. He fulfilled several interview requests yesterday from local media outlets, many who remember him pitching for Canada in the 2004 Olympics.

That proved to be a low point in Hill’s career. He blew out his elbow, underwent ligament replacement surgery and is just now healthy again.

But Robinson believes the experience might have made Hill a better pitcher.

“Maybe that was best for him in his career at that time,” he said. “I know he’s much more mature, much more confident when he goes out to the mound now. He’s much more able to handle the situation up here.”

Turf concerns

With the Nationals playing their only series of the season on artificial turf, Robinson will carefully watch several of his players, particularly those battling nagging injuries.

Right fielder Jose Guillen, who recently spent time on the disabled list with a strained hamstring, may receive a day off. So could second baseman Jose Vidro (who has endured knee injuries for several seasons) and first baseman Nick Johnson (who just missed five games with a strained lower back).

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